Principal investigator: Muhajarine, Nazeem (University of Saskatchewan)
Co-investigators: Bell, Scott (University of Saskatchewan); Baxter-Jones, Adam Dominic (University of Saskatchewan); Kirk, Sara (Dalhousie University); Green, Kathryn (University of Saskatchewan); Chad, Karen E. (University of Saskatchewan); Sherar, Lauren; Holden, William J. (City of Saskatoon).
This research is funded through the Childhood Obesity Prevention and Treatment initiative of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (HSFC) and co-funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Rx&D Health Research Foundation (HRF).
Childhood obesity is a growing concern in North America and worldwide. If current trends continue, we will have a generation of children growing up with poorer health status than their parents. For the first time in modern human history, the current generation of children may experience a drop in life expectancy compared to that of their parents. Just as human choices have created this alarming situation, albeit unintentionally, so we must believe that we can change it through wiser, deliberate choices.
It is increasingly clear that stemming the runaway prevalence of obesity at a population level requires multiple approaches, intervening on the determinants of obesity at the levels of the individual and the family, the community and the broader society. Diverse groups, funders to policy makers to researchers to concerned parents, have identified many environmental factors that can support or impede and active lifestyle for adults and children. The sense of urgency to halt the childhood obesity epidemic has helped catalyze a political process aimed at making environmental changes by altering public policy. However, there has been insufficient research to indicate which policy-driven environmental factors are the most important contributors to obesity and the mechanisms through which they work. Such research is critically needed to deepen the policy debate, leading to action with greater promise of decreasing childhood overweight and obesity in Canada and elsewhere.
Our proposal is inspired by the depth of commitment that has emerged in Saskatoon to effectively work across sectors to address major health problems facing the community. Within the past decade, various partners across the city have banded together to launch important and creative community initiatives. Against this backdrop, the proposed research aims to accomplish three broad objectives:
- Using City of Saskatoon as a ‘case in point’, to conduct research to identify how development of urban forms (policies and strategies underpinning the development) creates physical environments that are conducive for children to be active and thereby reduce obesity incidence; to engage the community in this research and co-produce knowledge that is useful, timely, and relevant to the decision-makers in the community, in the first place, but at the same time ensuring those in Canada and elsewhere in the world would also benefit from this research.
- Build capacity among partners in the community and in the university for conducting evaluative research that focuses on interventions and programs.
- Share the insights gained widely, in traditional and other creative ways, to audiences locally, nationally and internationally.
The research offers a fresh Canadian opportunity to create new insights on how urban form impacts children’s physical activity. By taking one city where municipal planning and development has a long history, is well recorded and thought through, this proposal traces a logical ‘channel of influence’ to understand whether municipal policy linked to neighbourhood built environment makes a difference in children’s physical activity levels. We have assembled a group of researchers, decision-makers, and practitioners who will pool their expertise and knowledge to not only create new knowledge but apply this knowledge to local decision-making and new neighbourhood development. To the extent that the issue of childhood obesity is a pan-Canadian concern, and that almost every municipality in Canada routinely engages in some sort of planning and policy making at the local level, and that increasingly many jurisdictions have groups of people from the academic and human service worlds working together to tackle large societal problems, this research will have a wider relevance than the impact that it would undoubtedly have in Saskatoon.